Olawale stood in the corridor, in front of the brown door, gawking at its strange markings. Whispers streamed from the closed door into his head every second he spent looking. He wanted to turn around and resume cleaning the house—the reason he followed his mom to Mr. Idemudia’s house, to assist her in tidying up the rich man’s home. The same thing he had always done every weekend. But this door held his gaze, compelling him to a standstill.
A sparrow flew and landed on the window of the corridor, offering an alluring tune. Or perhaps it was a warning. Olawale ignored it. He stretched forth his hand, gripped the doorknob, and twisted it left, right, left. The door opened wide. Within, darkness the length of the room. Another whisper and he took three footsteps in. The door slammed shut behind. Then, he realized what had happened.
Upstairs, his mom froze on hearing his scream. She threw her broom into the bosom of a couch and dashed off. She traced the echoes of his screams downstairs, a room by the end of the corridor. The same room Mr. Idemudia told her to never enter. Her heart quaked within and she let out a shaking breath.
Just the day before, she had walked into the four-bedroom duplex conscientiously, following an invitation from Mr. Idemudia. Her friend who knew a friend who knew another friend secured her another cleaning job for a wealthy man. She figured including an additional cleaning job into her already tight schedule won’t kill her, so she consented and came to see him.
“Mrs. Salewa, I have just one rule,” Mr. Idemudia said to her, his oblong face stiffened.
She gulped loud like a stone falling into a lake then responded, “I’m listening, sir.”
They both stood opposite each other in the corridor, the air around them uptight as her boss unloaded his rule into her ears.
“Don’t go into the room at the end of this corridor. Take whatever you want from the refrigerator, prepare yourself a queen’s meal, and dance around in the house for all I care. But never enter—never open the door.”
Mrs. Salewa “Yes, sir. But—”
“Where’s the room I shouldn’t enter?”
He paid her silence as a reward for her question. He thought showing her the room would only heighten her curiosity and drive her towards ultimately going against his order. So he didn’t. He thought he was right, but life is unpredictable and things have a way of going south whether we want it or not.
Honks from a car accompanied by screeches pulled her back into the present.
It was as though Mr. Idemudia knew someone had stepped foot into the room. He drove into the compound hastily, kicking his car door wide open and darting into the house. Panting, he headed straight to the brown-door room, meeting Olawale’s mom before it.
“Oga, my son is inside. And the door won’t open.”
“I just went to buy some foodstuffs and you’ve already messed things up! Ehn!”
Mr. Idemudia turned, facing the room. He breathed softly, gripping the doorknob and twisting it carefully. Left. Right. Left. The door opened slowly, letting a frightening creak into the air. The room unhurriedly became lit, driving the darkness into nothingness. Inside, Olawale sat on the floor, legs folded, a broadened smile carved on his face. Two identical girls sat opposite him in white gowns, cackling. A board with snakes and ladders pictured on it laid in the space between them.
Mr. Idemudia and Olawale’s mom walked in, interrupting the children’s game. On seeing Mr. Idemudia, the girls stood up and ran toward him, yelling, “Daddy, you came early today and brought friends!”
Olawale’s mom launched toward Olawale, landing a strident smack on his left cheek. He winced.
“What are you doing here? No, tell me! I—” she paused.
Something caught her attention. Two brown coffins rested in the west end of the room. Both opened. Amid them, a small wooden being, a bowl before him. Just then, she realized the girls called him ‘Daddy’.
“Wait, Oga. I thought you said your kids passed away—that they drowned,” she said, her face heavy with confusion.
“If you tell anyone what you saw here, things won’t go well for you. Get out!”
Olawale and his mom hastened out of the room. And the door shut itself after them.
Night fell quicker than expected. Olawale’s mom spent nearly an hour in the kitchen preparing dinner—eba and egusi. She exited the kitchen, carrying two bowls in her hands, and walked to the living room, where Olawale laid motionlessly on the sofa. The room was lit by a fluorescent light bulb hanging from a wire in the ceiling. She placed the bowls on the coffee table, and stared ahead, shaking her head at her quiescent son, whose mouth refused to stay sealed. She smacked his feet, calling his name as she sat on a small wooden chair adjacent to him.
“Wale, wake up. Wa jeun.”
But he didn’t even move a muscle.
“Wale! Wale!” She yelled, rising, her right hand ready for another smacking.
The light bulb in the living room flickered for a few seconds, then maintained an illuminated state. Olawale stood behind her, his face as pale as a blank page. He watched his mom, hit his body repeatedly as she cried his name, the sound filling up the room.
“Come, let’s play,” a voice emerged from behind.
Olawale turned around. Mr. Idemudia’s daughters stood a few inches before him, their round faces complemented with grins. One of the twins stretched her left hand forward, palm wide open, awaiting an interlocking. Olawale stared at her palm, then spun to face his mother.
“Let’s go, Wale.”
Olawale turned and grasped one of the twins’ outstretched hands, lacing his fingers with hers.
Praise Osawaru (he/him) is a writer and poet of Bini descent. A Best of the Net nominee, his works appear or are forthcoming in Blue Marble Review, Giallo Lit, Glass Poetry, Ice Floe Press, Kalahari Review, Rising Phoenix Review, and elsewhere. He’s a 2020 Jack Grapes Poetry Prize Finalist, and he was also shortlisted for the Babishai 2020 Haiku Award and the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize 2020. A Virgo and lover of the strange and speculative, he’s a prose reader for Chestnut Review. Find him on Instagram/Twitter: @wordsmithpraise.